The Farne Islands, off the Northumberland coast, are considered to be a globally important site for migratory seabirds. They are also home to Englandís largest puffin colony.
The seabirds are one of the star attractions for the thousands of visitors to the islands. When weather conditions allow, there is a continual stream of boats carrying wildlife enthusiasts around the islands, which are owned by the National Trust.
Following several decades of continual growth in the islandsí puffin population, a survey carried out during 2008 recorded an unprecedented 33% fall. The mysterious, sharp decline came as a complete surprise to conservationists.
Despite successful breeding seasons and a good supply of fish in the waters off the Farne Islands, it appears fewer puffins returned to the colony at the start of the 2008 breeding season.
Biologist Richard Bevan, from Newcastle University, is hoping that hi-tech tags will help shed some light on the reason why the Farnesí puffin population experienced such a sharp fall.
Working closely with the National Trust wardens on the Farne Islands, Dr Bevan has been capturing a small number of puffins and fitting them with a variety of different tags Ė GPS, geolocators and time/depth recorders.
Dr Bevan hopes to attach GPS tags on up to 20 birds during the course of the 2009 breeding and nesting season. The devices will provide a minute-by-minute record on the birdsí location, indicating where and how the birds are catching fish.
Another summer resident on the Farnes that is facing an uncertain future is the Arctic tern. Visitors to the islands are advised to wear protective headgear because the small birds are fiercely protective of their habitat.
Without any serious threat from predators, the ground-nesting birdsí biggest threat comes from prolonged summer storms, which can claim the life of newly hatched chicks. A female tern generally lays two eggs during the course of the nesting season.
The 32 islands of the Farnes are home to an estimated 80,000 breeding pairs of seabirds, made up from about 23 different species. Without any serious threat from ground or aerial predators, the islands provide an ideal habitat with a rich food source.
Guillemots, a close relative of puffins, have seen their numbers on the islands soar in recent decades as a result of improved protection measures. In the past, the birdsí eggs were gathered by locals as a food source and a way to earn money.
Dr Bevan and fellow biologists hope that the data gathered by the tags will help shine light on the complexities of the North Sea's marine environment (Words and pictures by Mark Kinver).